Article by: Coop Cooper
A.K.A. The Small Town Critic
How might you react if you saw an ad in the classifieds that read:
“*WANTED* Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.”
You might laugh your head off, then move on to read “Peanuts” in the comics section. What if I told you that this ad was really placed and some enterprising filmmaker decided to make a movie out of it? It happened, and the result is the indie comedy “Safety Not Guaranteed.”
Darius (Aubrey Plaza) is a sarcastic, dark-humored intern at a high-profile Seattle magazine who struggles with money while waiting for her big break. This break comes in the form of the bizarre classified ad which she volunteers to cover along with her immature mentor, Jeff (Jake Johnson), and a meek intern, Arnau (Karan Soni). They track down Kenneth (Mark Duplass), the writer of the ad, and the team decides Darius is the only one in the group who is quirky enough to speak Kenneth’s conspiracy-theory language. Darius soon wins Kenneth’s trust and the two begin training for the mission. Although Kenneth is deadly serious about the trip, Darius finds herself charmed by his childish innocence and savant-like talents. Eventually Darius uncovers conflicting information about Kenneth that could either prove him as mentally unstable or confirm that he is a time-traveling genius.
If you like Aubrey Plaza on the NBC show “Parks and Recreation” then you know what to expect from her performance. The comedienne throws out deadpan insults as easily as Gallagher smashes melons but I would say as Darius she comes across as a bit less confident. She is in danger of becoming a one-note character actor but for now her acerbic schtick is refreshing and marketable.
Jake Johnson plays a neurotic, lovable loser on the Fox show “New Girl” but here he is nearly unlikable as a piggish writer who only goes on the trip to try to seduce a former flame who lives in the area. This subplot becomes a distraction from the main story as it takes up too much of the runtime but is never fully resolved. Even sloppier is the subplot involving the nerdy Indian Arnau losing his virginity, but this is handled so poorly, I wish they had left it out.
The real charmer of this film is Mark Duplass who has written, directed (“Jeff Who Lives at Home,” “Cyrus”) and co-starred in many recent indie comedies similar in tone to this one. He comes across as so genuine and harmless that when he sticks up a technology company for a few parts to build the machine, you never think for a second that he would or could hurt anyone. It’s actually during his goofier moments that he shines, whether it’s teaching Darius how to shoot or letting her hear this song he wrote that he thinks is no good. Just when you think he’s going to make a fool out of himself, he surprises you. I think Duplass is a hidden gem who will quickly become a go-to comedy star in the next couple of years. He has already scored a coveted role as a Navy Seal in the movie based on the killing of Osama bin Laden titled “Zero Dark Thirty,” due out in December.
With a premise like the one in “Safety Not Guaranteed,” there can only be one of two outcomes and the filmmakers probably chose the wrong one. It suffers from what I call ‘indie syndrome’ in that the script could’ve probably gone through a few more drafts and gotten a bit more feedback before going into production. There are plot holes, superficial subplots that go nowhere and an abrupt ending that chooses whimsy over something more substantial. It’s still a fun, sweet story with lovable characters and satisfying performances.
Rating: 3 out of 5